Category Archives: Pennsylvania State Parks

A Trip to Presque Isle State Park, PA

So, on the 13th of July we set out for Presque Isle State Park in/by Erie, PA.  Our son had a day’s worth of homeschool classes on aquaculture, swamp & beach biomes, the geology of the park, and preservation and maintenance of the park.  While it was only two and a quarter hours away from Buffalo, as the classes started at 9 am, we decided to camp overnight.

Our trip was uneventful, except for the fact that I made the mistake of topping up the coolant level in the bus before we left.  Why was this a problem?  Because there was a small leak at the coolant reservoir that dripped down onto the alternator, frying the voltage regulator.  By the time we had hit the Angola Rest Area on the NYS Thruway/I-90, we were running on battery power.  But as on our Evangola trip, I knew that the engine would keep running fine, but unlike that previous trip I had the house batteries fully charged, and chargers for both the house and bus batteries that would work when we got to shore power.  But now I knew the reason WHY the alternator was failing.  Unfortunately, the fluctuations in voltage damaged the board in the fridge, though I got it to work for part of the time we were plugged in.

We stayed at Sara’s Campground, whose lands abut right up to both the Presque Isle State Park and the Tom Ridge Environmental Center.  Their grounds also have sites on both sides of Peninsula Drive/Route 832, the east side has sites for actual beach camping (in tents), and the west side is in the more forested area.

Sara's Campground Site Map
Sara’s Campground Site Map

So, we ended up getting Site 21 in the Forest Section.  It was our first stay in a private campground, and I was frankly surprised at the density of sites! The dashcam recorded our trip into our site, including the trepidation and worries I had of getting the bus in a place I’d have to back out of.

Sara’s Campground, Site 21, with the bus all settled.

But the site was fine.  The electric/water pole had a streetlight on it, so we had to put a blanket up over the windows on that side (thankfully magnets hold to bus steel wonderfully).  But there were no sites to our starboard side (where the firepit was), so it was a nice open site (next to a parking lot). And the concrete pad was very nicely level, so everything was comfortable.

Saras Campground, Site 21, with the bus settled and the fire burning down for Toastites.
Saras Campground, Site 21, with the bus settled and the fire burning down for Toastites.

But right across the street (via a crosswalk with speedbumps and a pushbutton controlled set of flashing lights to cross) was the start of Presque Isle’s beaches, and we walked all the way up past the first couple of breakwaters.  We did a little beachcombing, then returned and we made a fire and some lovely toastites for dinner.  We had some people stop by, interested in the bus, and we gave them the tour, and some skoolie info, as they had expressed interest in working up their own.

The sunset over lake Erie, shining right through the back window of the bus.
The sunset over lake Erie, shining right through the back window of the bus.

A little while later, as the sun was setting, we found that the sun was setting directly behind the bus, through the path to the beach.  It was, however, it was basically 9pm, so we were forced to get to bed before we felt we were ready.

Our next morning was fine, coffee and bowls of cereal for breakfast, and as the engine was running and I was doing our pre-trip, folks came over, interested in the bus. Alas, we didn’t have time for a tour, and weren’t returning, but they thought the concept was cool and were absolutely fine with us being there.

Unfortunately, given the short timing of us getting to the Tom Ridge Center for the aquaponics class, and then us getting from that class to our pontoon boat tour, I forgot to turn the dashcam on for those trips. But after the boat tour, I remembered to turn the cam on, so we have a video tour of Presque Isle, sped up 4x.  You miss out on a whole bunch of the cottonwood tree seeds floating about at that speed, but I recorded us getting from the tour to Barracks Beach, and then down the beach road to the Tom Ridge Center again, and then around the whole park once more.

 

Our trip back was uneventful, except for the one tractor-trailer driver who LOVED the train horn.  He paced us while we were still in PA, blew his horn and motioned for me to blow ours and gave a thumbs-up when I did, and hung out in front of us to break air for us until he got to the Angola, NY exit where he sounded his horn again and waved, and I sounded ours again.

A Trip to Ohiopyle and Fallingwater (Part 3)

(Continued from Part 2)

After a quick breakfast of coffee and cereal, we packed everything up, put up the awning and headed off to Fallingwater.  While it was only about 2 miles away in a straight line, the campground was up atop a high ridge that we had to backtrack along to get down, and it ended up being an eight mile drive.

We also had to travel down PA 2010 (which was just one last long uphill drive as we were getting in so late on Friday night), which has a pretty steep grade for almost a mile of the mile and a half we were on it.  There was an option of going another route, but that would have replaced the 2010 route with a sixteen and a half mile detour.  I decided to just plan on stab braking my way down, and it all went fine.

We drove back through the town of Ohiopyle and along 381 North back up to Fallingwater.  The ‘campus’ has a couple of nice parking lots, one of which is set up for about eight RVs or buses, so parking was easy.  It was a chilly day, and the area the education people had for display space for the architectural models was in an outdoor area with a roof but no walls shielded from the parking area by some lovely evergreen trees.  That meant that while it was really comfortable out in the sun, sitting in the pavilion was kind of chilly.

Luckily, we had the bus right there and I was able to run back and get a sweatshirt for the boy, and then some coffee, and then a jacket.  The kids showed their models, and our son worked with staff to get their laptop to run Minecraft and load his world in, so he could show his. We then got to tour the Fallingwater house.

We couldn’t take an pictures inside the house during the tour, but let it be said that it certainly is a Frank Lloyd Wright house.  Low ceilings and corridors make you feel squeezed, and subconsciously make you move to more comfortable places in rooms.

After our tour, our son was able to give a tour of his house on the projector screen, but a couple other kids couldn’t get their digital data off their iphones, which was a bit disappointing.  But when it was all done, the kids were happy, the folks at Fallingwaters were impressed with what our homeschool group had done, and we went back to the campground.

Again, we took the steep shortcut and just rode it slowly.  All was fine.

Back in the campground, I turned the bus around at the intersection made by a utility (water & power) access road instead of trying the way-too-tight loop, and we slid right back into our spot. More Boss Monster ensued, and we had another chilly night.

The next morning we repeated the process of getting back to Fallingwater, but were delayed getting out of the town of Ohiopyle by a train.  While tempted to blow the train horn at them to get back at them doing so in the middle of the night near our camp, there were too many people around outside.

We arrived again at Fallingwater and over the day, the kids had some classes on architectural drawing & scaling, building paper cantilevers, and perspective drawing,  My wife found that the information area had these small little pieces of colored paper, each with directions on how to get where you were going from Fallingwater, so we grabbed one that confirmed how we would get to I-76.  Afterward, we said our goodbyes to the folks staying another night, made a quick dinner in the bus before leaving, ate, and headed back to Buffalo.

We had already decided that we would take the longer (but faster) route home, going back up 381 to 711 (and avoiding the shortcut that got us lost) to 31 and then onto The Pennsylvania Turnpike (I-76) West.  It was nice to see all the places we’d missed in the dark, and I had noticed when we’d passed over the Turnpike on our way down, so I had an idea of where we were going.

The Turnpike was it’s own adventure.  I’d never taken the bus on a toll road, and rather than having a manned toll booth, there was just a machine that spat out tickets.  As I was looking for a way to figure out what class we were, a ticket came out and, well, we were a class 3.  I guess there was a person watching somewhere. So, onto the westbound ramp we went, and I worked at getting up to traffic speed.

The speed limit was a zippy 70.

I can push the bus all the way up to 65, but that’s all the way up at 2600 RPMs, so I feel tenuous about holding it there.  So I rode us along between 63-65 while the trucks zoomed around us.  Some $17 later we got off the paid section of the Turnpike we had been on, and our exit onto I-79 North which would take us from Pittsburgh to Erie.

And again the speed limit was 70.

But we made it to near Erie and got on I-90 East, and I promptly got us off to get some fuel – just 10 gallons, as we were close enough to to the Seneca Reservation near Irving that I could fill up fully there, which we did.

Finally home!

A Trip to Ohiopyle and Fallingwater (Part 2)

Continued from Part 1

Our first night actually was fine, even if short.  The back of the bus faced the east, which meant that the sun streamed in through the trees in all the windows.  The new bench-platform bed fit a queen-sized foam pad with room to spare, and the pre-made bedroll made putting the bed together easy.  After a pot of espresso was brewed up on the stove, we started to unpack and find what we needed.

The new awning in place and rolled up.
The new awning in place and rolled up.

As a light rain started and slowly got heavier, I opted to put out our new (to the bus) awning, both to insure that we would have some dry area alongside the bus and because the awning had not been unrolled and exposed to a nice cleaning rain in over a decade.  It came out easily and I was able to use a cloth and the rain-water to clean the supports of the dirt and grime it had accumulated in the under-building storage it had been in.

One thing to note here was that we were in our first extended-stay non-electric sites.  Given that we’d be moving and wouldn’t be able to use the solar panels, I didn’t even bring them, and we opted to use the fridge (which had chilled on before we left and had been running off the inverter on the way down) as a cooler, opening it as little as possible to conserve cold.  But it was nice.  We still had lights with the DC when we needed them, and there was no buzz from the inverter.

A nice soft, safe spot for a dog.
A nice soft, safe spot for a dog.

The Ohiopyle Campgrounds were really nice.  There were lots of little streams and big rocks.  (Our dog liked nestling among them.)  There were tons of trees and plenty of birds, though not many animals that we saw, though we were in one of the two dog-friendly loops.  The other loops are not pet friendly, and you aren’t even allowed to walk your dog through them.  If there’s a trailhead in one of those loops, you have to drive your dog there to take them on the trail.

And there was no excess light pollution after dark.  It was really nice to be able to see the moon and stars amongst the clouds from our bed.

The bench platforms in place. Basically all the space under those middle panels is storage!
The bench platforms in place. Basically all the space under those middle panels is storage!

After a hearty breakfast, we set about some organizing.  We drove down to Ohiopyle with the bench-platform in place, and the height of the platforms means that all of the plastic totes that we have used so far slide right underneath it.  This is great because the open space is about 60 inches by 42 inches, which is a ton of space where the totes can’t bounce around in the far back of the bus.

One of the issues we had in arranging was that I haven’t yet built the under-counter storage, so everything was tucked away in the bathroom area, and we needed to be able to tuck it all back there the next morning, as we needed to take the bus to Fallingwater the next day (Two miles away as the crow flies, but eight by road) as we couldn’t leave our dog at the campsite and we didn’t bring a toad or chase vehicle.

As the day progressed, and the rain worsened periodically, it also became obvious that we needed better pre-planing.  I had checked the weather and noted that it was going to be cold and grabbed winter gear (coats, gloves, hats, scarves), but not rain gear, and the weather was still relatively warm.  Luckily the spotty rain cut out often enough that it wasn’t a big problem, but when our friends on a different loop stopped by and our son wanted to go and play with them, he didn’t have rain gear to take ‘just in case’.

(So, we’ve determined that we need a better pre-trip list, and currently everything that was packed away in the bus is now out for cataloging and sorting.)

But we were fine.  We hosted the kids from our friends’ site (they had a total of five kids) as their son remarked that we always had good games with us.  Boss Monster was the game of choice, and much fun was had by all (except the heros, of course).  But we also had brought our LEGO Fallingwater set and our Pop-up Frank Lloyd Wright book, so they were seen as well.

LEGO Architecture Fallingwater (21005) (Discontinued by manufacturer) (Toy)


List Price: $99.99 USD
New From: $299.99 USD In Stock
Used from: Out of Stock

Frank Lloyd Wright in Pop-up (Hardcover)


List Price: $19.98
New From: $49.99 USD In Stock
Used from: $4.00 USD In Stock

Boss Monster Card Game Bundle (Toy)


List Price: Price Not Listed
New From: 0 Out of Stock
Used from: Out of Stock

Toas-Tite Aluminum Sandwich Grill (Kitchen)


List Price: $31.99 USD
New From: $25.95 USD In Stock
Used from: Out of Stock

And for dinner, we got to christen two new toastite makers on the fire! My wife got me one years ago, and last year my wife and son decided that if I was making toastites for everyone, I wasn’t getting to eat with everyone else.  So they got toastite makers for themselves and I got to make three toastites all at once.

The night got down to 37F or so, but we were all pretty warm.  Mixed in with our blankets and bedding were blankets of reflective mylar and faux-sheepskin that we tend to call ‘magic blankets’ for just how warm they are.

The next day was classes at Fallingwater, so we had to contend with packing up in the morning.  And getting the bus there.

 

Continued in Part 3